Zuhal Demir named new secretary of state for equal opportunities

Summary

The N-VA politician, a specialist in labour law, replaces her party colleague Elke Sleurs as federal secretary for equal opportunities, disability, science and poverty

‘Remember where we came from’

Zuhal Demir is the new federal secretary of state for equal opportunities, people with disabilities, science policy and fighting poverty. She takes over from her N-VA colleague Elke Sleurs, who stepped down to lead the party’s election list on the Ghent city council.

Demir (pictured) is from Genk, has Turkish-Kurdish roots and studied law in Leuven, before practising as a specialist in labour law in Antwerp. She was elected in Antwerp in 2010 and again in 2014. Before taking over as equal opportunities minister, she chaired the Flemish government’s integration agency.

Demir visited the royal palace last week to take the oath of allegiance. Around her wrist was the red handkerchief that her father wore in the mines of Limburg, where he worked after coming to Belgium from Turkey in the 1970s.

“It’s our family’s good luck token,” she said. “My father always said we mustn’t forget where we came from.”

In the course of her career, Demir has been given the nickname “Iron Lady”, and not only because demir means iron in Turkish. She has argued, for example, in favour of limiting the duration of unemployment benefits to encourage people to try harder to find work. She attributes her stances to her own experiences growing up.

She has also received death threats because of her outspoken views on the oppression of Turkey’s Kurdish population. Earlier this month, one man who had made threats was sentenced to six months in prison.

Photo courtesy N-VA

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Belgian government

Belgium is a federal state made up of three regions and three communities, based on language (Dutch, French and German). The federal level is responsible for issues such as justice, defence, finances and foreign affairs – matters that affect the entire country. Belgium is also a constitutional monarchy.
Regions - The regions are comparable to American states or German Länder. They are geographical entities, responsible for matters related to their territory, such as public works, environment and economy. Belgium’s three regions are the Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region.
Communities - Communities are responsible for matters that directly affect residents, such as education, welfare and culture. Belgium’s three communities are the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German Community.
Flanders - Although regions and communities do not overlap exactly, the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community have merged into the Flemish government. Its official language is Dutch. The Flemish Parliament sits in Brussels, which is the official capital city of Flanders (as well as Belgium).
11

population of Belgium in millions of people, with 6.2 million living in Flanders.

6

number of state reforms that have resulted in the federal system as it is today.

4

number of years for which the federal House of Representatives and the Senate are elected.